By Preston Wilder
Richie may be hung like a horse, but he knows the score: “I’m not a fireman. I’m a male entertainer”. He’s never been a fireman – indeed, he’s afraid of fire – but he plays one onstage, along with Mike (Channing Tatum) and the rest of the ‘Kings of Tampa’, at least till they decide to self-empower and dance only moves which are relevant to them, not the dated routines they learned from Dallas (the old Matthew McConaughey role) who’s now in Macau anyway.
They’re not firemen, they’re male entertainers. But in fact there’s another theory: “We’re healers,” reckons Tito, the one with a sideline in frozen yogurt (or maybe it was Ken, the “snowy-white Ken doll for all those good Christian women”). Girls have to deal with husbands and boyfriends who don’t even ask what they want, let alone listen to the answer – but the Kings know how to appreciate a woman, calling her “my goddess”, putting their toned, muscular, unthreateningly hairless bodies at her disposal. “My God is a ‘she’,” says Mike, magicking everyone from hot young things to grateful matrons.
It wasn’t quite like that in the first Magic Mike three years ago, a film with an undertow of rueful sadness – not quite moralism, more an acknowledgment that there’s something sad about a 40-year-old male stripper. The guys are even closer to their sell-by date in this one – indeed, their trip to a strippers’ convention is described as a “last ride”, one final jaunt before their stuff-strutting days are over – and lip-service is paid to their not-so-glamorous offstage lives: “My agent’s got me doing YouTube videos,” sighs Ken, while Mike himself is barely getting by in his furniture business and rejoins the team after an annus horribilis, a “year of horrible ideas”. Yet the film has no edge. The big set-piece in Magic Mike was a party with a hurricane blowing outside, like the natural disaster (a.k.a. old age) getting ready to blow the Kings down. The big set-piece here is just a party.
Actually, there are three big set-pieces, taking up most of the second hour, the most startling and ridiculous thing about Magic Mike XXL being the way it cheerfully runs out of plot halfway through and wallows in bump-and-grind dance numbers. One set-piece features Andie MacDowell as the gracious chief cougar in a party of middle-aged mums, plying the Kings with expensive wine and confiding her problems. The scene is long and largely irrelevant, but at least it tugs at the theme of being older and frustrated. The other two set-pieces, each about 20 minutes long, are harder to justify: an interlude in a rather tame African-American “country club” where people dance and rap (I’m not sure if it’s ironic or deliberate that the film is essentially segregated), and of course the climax itself where the Kings do their act – though in fact they do five separate acts, each getting his turn in the limelight, which may be appropriate but makes the scene rather endless.
Self-indulgence is the name of the game here. Magic Mike thrived on the tension between having fun and getting old – but this one just wallows, turning the guys into lithe, happy genies. Tatum sends himself up (“I’m Magic … Magic Mike!” he declares with a knowing, half-kidding pirouette), and of course only makes himself more desirable. It’s part of the deal that the Kings aren’t remotely macho, as if too much testosterone might harsh their vibe as willing, worshipful studs. They’re intuitive (like women), pluck their eyebrows, argue over boy-bands and commiserate with each other over a cheating spouse who couldn’t handle monogamy (only the spouse was a wife, not a husband). “I was there, but I was in drag,” says Mike at one point – and he’s joking, but in fact cross-dressing would be par for the course in this movie.
Magic Mike XXL romps along merrily enough, but you do have to wonder what the point is. Maybe the point is slyly feminist, to objectify men just as women have often been objectified; certainly, a scene where Mike chats with Tito about frozen yogurt seems to exist for no other reason than to allow Channing Tatum to lie on his front, showing off his tight backside. Or maybe the point is indeed self-indulgence, as in so many Hollywood comedies – the blithe look-at-me narcissism that’s infected the culture through reality shows, and barely even raises an eyebrow. People used to value freedom, says Jada Pinkett Smith as the owner of a club known as ‘Domina’, but now they value beauty – and there’s some truth in that, marking the film as a product of a time when everyone preens like a peacock but freedom is taken for granted as a right, not a privilege. “That was fun, whatever that was,” says Jada, and the same could be said of Magic Mike XXL. But what was it?
DIRECTED BY Gregory Jacobs
STARRING Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Jada Pinkett Smith
US 2015 115 mins